The Gila Economic Development Alliance held its monthly Roundtable, Friday, Feb. 21, at the Grant County Administration Center.
As usual, two speakers were featured. Kim Clark, president of Prospectors, a group of business leaders who advocate at the Legislature and for economic development for Grant County, spoke first.
"We start the legislative process in December, with a legislative forum, where community entities present their needs to the local legislators—Rep. Dianne Hamilton, Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez, and Sen. Howie Morales," Clark said. "This year, we had 28 presenters, talking about their issues and projects. The Prospectors go back and set the priorities and create a brochure, which is the basis for what we do in Santa Fe.
"This year on Grant County Day, Jan. 29, we met with several leaders, key people to whom we explained our priorities," Clark said. "We made an impression in Santa Fe, because we had so many from the community there. The Western New Mexico University students made an impression on the legislators. We met with the governor. We were told we would have five to 10 minutes. She gave us 30 minutes, then the group met with Department of Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson.
"I have heard that our reception is one of the better attended ones," Clark continued. "Two people who went above and beyond are Julie Morales, who spearheaded the event and Pricilla Lucero, who helped create the notebook that has become the model for other efforts around the state."
"We appreciate our sponsors," Morales said.
Arlene Schadel of the Gila EDA asked about the priorities.
They were listed in the brochure that was handed out to legislators and state officials. The 2014 issues of concern fit into five categories:
1) Fund water and water infrastructure;
2) Education—support technology, programs and infrastructure;
3) Fund capital outlay needs for local government;
4) Economic development; and
5) Rural health—sustaining practitioners and services.
"We moved away from visiting cabinet secretaries for the past two years," Clark said. "But it was missing from our activities and we will set them up again next year. It's too early to tell how successful we were. We are waiting for the governor to review the bills that went to her."
Skip Thacker, Gila EDA member, asked if other counties do the same as the Prospectors.
Bruce Ashburn of PNM and a Prospector, said some counties have similar outreach, including Luna County and its Silver Spikes.
Tom Vaughan of FeVa Fotos asked what the "biggest get" for the area was.
"So far, it's WNMU," Clark said.
Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments director, said it was really too early to say, because "the governor has 30 days to sign them or line item veto requests."
Evangeline Zamora, LifeQuest director, said she believes disabilities received $500,000 for the DD Waiver and $500,000 for FIT, if the governor signs off on them.
"I will bring back the allocations to the Roundtable," Lucero said.
Julie Morales of WNMU and a Prospector, said Western is slated for $6 million in general obligation bonds, which will go before the voters in November.
The next featured speaker was Alex Ocheltree, giving an update on the proposed tavern license. "Every part of the trip to Santa Fe was remarkable. It was an adventure. The Prospectors, what an effective organization. We got to put it all before the governor. My admiration for what you do. You are such an asset for Grant County."
He explained the tavern license is a new kind of liquor license. "Every downtown in New Mexico has a tough time with transition between the loss of J.C. Penney and regrowth. Entertainment can help."
"The proposal for the new liquor license failed," Ocheltree said. "The state has many full licenses based on a huge amount of money. Next year, one will cost over $1 million. People buy liquor licenses on speculation."
He said the tavern license, as suggested, would sell only New Mexico products. "Everybody likes the idea, but then you run into a problem. The U.S. Commerce Clause stipulates one cannot discriminate against products from out of state. It's in courts all over the country—is a tasting room a violation of the Commerce Clause?"
"I'm finding out we have a legal precedent in Maine and Arizona, which changed the parameters for a license to how much, for instance, a winery produces. If it's less than 25,000 gallons a year, it may be OK. However, the cases are held up in the Court of Appeals in Maine and Arizona."
He said, even though the Legislature defeated the bill, it created a Liquor License Task Force. "The problem is about $4 million in value in full licenses. For some mom-and-pops, it's their only significant asset. We can't hurt these values. The task force was set up last fall as part of an economic development subcommittee. I'm not on the task force, but I crashed the party. A tavern license is just a Band-aid. The task force is trying to revamp the licensing. It is trying to do open heart surgery."
Ocheltree explained that the licenses are retailers' package liquor and onsite serving of liquor and a dispenser onsite license. If the full package is transferred, the package part is lost. "One idea is to split the licenses into package or dispenser. That would free up licenses and would protect the value. Sam Trujillo (of the Buffalo Bar) had to sell his package and dispenser. Now he's looking for just a dispenser license. A person is not allowed to sell the last liquor license in an area. The task force is also talking about enlarging districts to no less than a county. Before 1981, there used to be a rural license. Maybe we can bring it back."
He noted that little Arizona towns like Bisbee are "happening places," because they have liquor licenses. "We need to get local people to stay here and invest in downtown. The task force is trying to create a more fluid process for the licenses."
Thacker asked what the ballpark cost for a tavern license would be.
"Nothing, just a yearly payment," Ocheltree said. "It would be like a restaurant beer and wine license. If we come up with something good and get political support, maybe it will happen. The task force is supposed to be representative of the state, but, of course, there's no one from here on it."
Christine Logan, the area's representative from the NM Economic Development Department said the top priority for the Rural Economic Development Council is to work for the user. "Licenses are concentrating in more urban areas because they can get more money."
"That's the threat," Ocheltree said. "Large license owners and wholesalers may stonewall us. Everybody agrees that rural economic development is our best pitch.
Vaughan asked if New Mexico producers, such as Little Toad Creek, have a seat at the table.
Ocheltree said the representation is mostly from Santa Fe and Albuquerque distilleries. "The only rural one is the Chamber of Commerce president from Alamogordo."
Dave Thomas of WNM Communications asked what type of license Little Toad Creek has.
"Because it is a distillery, it can have two tasting rooms," Ocheltree said.
Lucero read from her phone a total of $1.438 million going to area entities, depending on the governor's approval.
The rest of the meeting, comprised of reports and updates from those organizations attending, will be covered in a future article.